Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents– which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
- Philippians 1:27-30 -
As I’ve been studying the Book of Philippians, I continue to be amazed at the parallels between the Philippian congregation and Christians today. The Lord Jesus Christ had called out these dear believers from the world to Himself, and rather than being devoted citizens of the Roman Empire and dutiful slaves of Lord Caesar, they were now devoted citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and were slaves and saints of the Lord Jesus (cf. 1:27; 3:20). Because the Gospel of Christ was the rule of their conduct as citizens of Heaven, they were called to a manner of life that was entirely distinct from their pagan neighbors. They were to live as “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (2:14–15) They were called to such chaste behavior and purity of lifestyle that there would be an evident difference between them and their unbelieving countrymen.
But of course, that kind of holy life always proves to be a challenge and a rebuke to those who don’t walk in the same way. Christ Himself told us that “everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20). And so, since the Philippians had been rescued from the dominion of darkness and had been transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col 1:13), they began to face opposition from the world around them. And Paul’s response to this is to charge them to stand firm—to not let such persecution cause them to move an inch in their commitment to Christ and His Gospel. A paramount way in which they will conduct themselves as citizens worthy of the Gospel (1:27) is to be good soldiers, and to stand their ground at all costs. Paul tells them what he told Timothy: “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:3). He says to the Corinthians: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor 16:13).
Are You Ready?
And in the wake of the Supreme Court’s rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, I can’t think of any more fitting admonition for Christ’s Church at this very hour. If we can learn one thing from the political events of this week, it’s that it is plain that the Gospel we believe, the Word we live by, and the Lord we serve are no less subversive and antithetical to our world than they were to the world the Philippians lived in. As we simply seek to follow the Lord Jesus in trusting His Word and faithfully proclaiming His Gospel, opposition will come. 2 Timothy 3:12 speaks plainly: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And when it comes, the question for you is: Will you be ready? Will you heed Paul’s admonition? Will you stand firm?
Here We Stand, in a Long Line of Godly Men
The entire world of Christendom stood against Martin Luther for teaching the biblical doctrine of salvation—that a man is justified by faith alone. And when he wouldn’t kowtow to the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, they put him on trial before the Holy Roman Emperor himself at the Diet of Worms, and demanded that he recant his teachings or suffer the fate of a heretic. And I trust you remember Luther’s famous words: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen!”
Perhaps a less-known account is that of the martyrdom of Polycarp, one of the church fathers who was a disciple of the Apostle John, and who had served for years as the bishop of Smyrna. It’s recorded that when the Roman soldiers had stormed his house to seize him, he fed them dinner and asked if could spend an hour in prayer, which they allowed. And they took him to the arena, where he stood in the face of wild beasts that threatened to tear him to pieces. The Roman proconsul reminded Polycarp of his advanced age (he was now in his mid 80s) and promised to release him if he would swear loyalty to Caesar and revile the name of Jesus Christ. And with the lions to his left and the stake at which he would be burned to his right, he looked at the crowd who longed for his death and said, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King who has saved me?”
And we could multiply these stories. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is filled with the accounts of faithful saints who treasured the truth even unto death. But I ask you on this day: Are you ready to stand? Are you committed to suffering hardship in this long line of godly men, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ?
An Opportunity to Magnify the Worth of Christ
You may think I’m being dramatic, but it’s just been made perfectly clear that our 21st-century Western culture is going to give us plenty opportunities to show the world that to live is Christ and to die is gain (1:21)—that we count all things as loss for the sake of the surpassing value of knowing Him (3:8)—that He is more satisfying than all that life can offer and all that death can take—because it’s going to force us to choose between faithfulness to the Lord and the worldly comforts we’ve grown so accustomed to.
The pressure on Christians and churches to abandon the biblical teaching on homosexuality, marriage, the family, men’s and women’s roles, and a host of other issues is only going to increase exponentially. And many professing Christians—maybe even some of you—are going to be tempted to soften your positions a little bit. “Well, maybe not all of the Bible is God’s Word. I mean, it was written by men. We can accept its truth on certain matters of faith, but not matters of civil disputes. After all, we’re not a theocracy, right?” “Well, maybe it’s not our place to deny ‘civil rights’ to homosexuals who want to be married. Sure, I don’t agree with it, but we can’t legislate morality, can we?”
And against these fine-sounding arguments, and all the various ways in which the world will press us to soften our stance on the Word of God, we need to heed the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to stand firm! To hold our ground as good soldiers of Jesus Christ! When the temptation comes to soften on a particular doctrine of Scripture, we must be ready to look that tempter in the face, to raise our copy of the Word of God, and say, “Here I stand!” When the cultural and societal and even political powers of the day demand that you renounce and revile Christ and keep up with the spirit of the times, you must stand your ground and say with Polycarp, “In all the years I’ve served Him He’s never done me wrong. How could I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Friends, we need to resolve that if persecution comes—if ridicule and accusations of bigotry and homophobia continue to come, if hardship and crippling fines and imprisonment come, if even death itself should come—we will stand firm as good soldiers of the Lord Jesus, as citizens of Heaven ruled by the Gospel of Christ.
Is He Worth It?
What I’m really asking you is: Is the Lord Jesus Christ so worthy and so glorious in your eyes that you will be able to gladly count all the things in this life that you hold dear as loss for His sake? Or will you fold? Will you yield your ground and be driven not by the Gospel, but by the ever-changing moral tides of the culture? And in so doing, prove yourself to not be a soldier of Christ at all, but as one who goes out from us because he was never really of us (1 John 2:19)?
But no, we are convinced of better things concerning you, beloved—things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way (Heb 6:9). You are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul (Heb 10:39).
So then, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come (Heb 13:13).